In July of 1962, saxophonist Sonny Rollins was joined by cornetist Don Cherry, bassist Bob Cranshaw, and drummer Billy Higgins for a four night stand at New York City’s Village Gate. But while this quartet performed twenty songs during this engagement, only three were ever released (on Sonny’s album Our Man In Jazz), and even then, one of them was heavily edited. But now the complete four night stint has been released as a six-CD boxed set titled Complete Live At The Village Gate 1962. Though while the music is great, the way its presented in this collection might irritate some picky purists.
Recorded July 27th through the 30th,
Complete Live At The Village Gate 1962 features such classic jazz tunes as George and Ira Gershwin’s “Love Walked In,” Bud Powell’s “Tempus Fugit,” and Duke Ellington’s “Solitude,” as well as the Rollins’ originals “Oleo,” “Doxy,” and “St. Thomas.” And not only do the foursome play them exceptionally well here, but they sound great on this collection, which was professionally recorded, and thus sounds much clearer, cleaner, and crisper than if had been made by some guy who’d snuck a tape recorded in his pants (which, given the size of tape recorders in 1962, would’ve been quite a trick).
But what makes Complete Live At The Village Gate 1962 special — aside from it being hours and hours of previously unheard music, of course — is that it presents a side of Rollins we haven’t heard much. On the later shows, he and Cherry go into some long improvisational suites that last anywhere from ten minutes to more than half-an-hour. And while these jams aren’t as noisy or free form as what John Coltrane did on Live In Japan, which features a nearly hour-long version of “My Favorite Things,” it is a much looser and more atmospheric Rollins than we heard on such earlier concert collections as 1957’s Live At The Village Vanguard.
In fact, when you get to the last night of Complete Live At The Village Gate 1962, the first and second sets (which are presented on disc 5) consist of three lengthy tunes of twenty, nine, and almost twenty-five minutes that are identified as “Untitled Original C,” “Untitled Original D,” and “Untitled Original E > Untitled Original A,” respectfully, because they’re not based on any specific songs but are instead just loose jams.
Of course, not everyone appreciates loose jams, which is why Complete Live At The Village Gate 1962 isn’t for everyone. Especially since they permeate this entire collection, be it in the nearly half-hour-long “Oleo” from the first night, the nearly half-hour-long “Oleo” on the second night, the eighteen-minute-long “Oleo” from the third night, or the, you guessed it, thirty-six-minute-long “Oleo” from the last night.
The irony being that people who don’t mind when jazz isn’t rigidly structured might have a problem with the way Complete Live At The Village Gate 1962 itself is structured. Rather than present the shows in order, and on separate discs, this collection mixes the shows together, and often has the songs out of order. The first set from the second night, for instance, is spread out over three different discs (though this is the worst of it).
Even stranger, Complete Live At The Village Gate 1962 also includes the edited version of “Dearly Beloved” that appeared on Our Man In Jazz, which clipped the nearly nineteen-minute-long song down to just eight-and-a-half, as well as the original track.
But what really makes the configuration annoying is that it was clearly done for monetary reasons. As is, Complete Live At The Village Gate 1962 is a six-disc set, and all the discs, save for the last two, are jam packed at seventy-plus minutes. But if you put each of the nights and sets from those nights onto their own CDs, and in the order they were performed, you’d have an eight-disc set, with each disc only being around about fifty minutes long. And six discs is cheaper than eight. Except that Complete Live At The Village Gate 1962 only costs $30.00 to begin with, sometimes even less, which means an eight-disc version would be $40.00. I can’t speak for everyone, but if you’re the kind of person who cares about this stuff, you’d be willing to pay the extra $10.00 to get it done right.
this is the kind of thing that only annoys us picky, prickly purists who’ll have to spend a few days burning the first four discs onto different CDs (the last two discs present the first two sets of the last night on one disc, and the third set on the other). But having gone through it, I can tell you, it’s worth it. And not just because it makes my inner purist happy. No, it’s also worth it because the music on Complete Live At The Village Gate 1962 is just so great. Loose, expressive, and ultimately beautiful, it not only sounds great, and features some wonderful performances, but it also shows a side of Sonny Rollins that we haven’t heard nearly enough. Well, until now.